I'm still traveling and mostly taking a break from posting and all things Los Angeles, but I encountered a couple of stories in the news in London that made me smile for their unintended LA angles. The first was reportage in all the British media of the passing of Deborah Mitford, the last of seven Mitford sisters who had been media personages of varying controversy here since before World War II (when some of the Mitfords hobnobbed way too closely with Hitler and the Nazis.) The LA connection of the Mitford who died this month at age 94 — "the country chick of that sophisticated brood," said the Guardian — is her title in British nobility. She was Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, meaning that she long ago married a guy who became the Duke of Devonshire — and thus she became the first lady, so to speak, of England's famous Chatsworth House estate. These places have no actual link to Los Angeles, but they are the namesakes of LA's Chatsworth community and its main boulevard, Devonshire Street. Some 120 years ago, when the Chatsworth name first came into use for the parched hills of picturesque boulders and rural homesteads in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, somebody had to have a rich imagination to see any resemblance to England. But the name stuck, and the Mitford stories popped out to me.
Also in the Guardian, I was surprised to find that the very un-tropical United Kingdom also has colonies of feral parrots flying through the skies. They have similar origin tales to those told about the parrot and exotic parakeet flocks found in many parts of LA — believed to be local escapees from captivity, whether in zoos or private birdcages — but here in England they are the target of eradication efforts. Three years and 260,000 pounds of expense targeting the monk parakeet have brought the population down to the last 50 birds, the government estimates.
Locals on London’s Isle of Dogs, the monk parakeets’ UK heartland, have welcomed the exotic addition to their streets. But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) concluded eradication was necessary after considering the damage caused by the feral birds in other countries and had to be carried out before the population got out of control.
The key problem is the huge communal nests built by the monk parakeets as these can cause blackouts when built on pylons and then drenched by rain. The US has already spent millions of dollars removing nests for this reason. The nests have also been linked to fires.
In the UK, Defra has revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request that the monk parakeets have already made a home in a mobile phone mast and that “they are causing a hazard to householders due to the droppings below their colonial nests”.
Since 2011, 62 birds have been captured by hand, tempted into cages or snared by “whoosh netting”, a bungee-powered net that launches from the ground over a target. A further 21 nests and 212 eggs have been taken. Most of the birds caught are then kept captive, but about 30% could not be re-homed and were put down.
At the same time, the English are being asked to vote on an official national bird. One columnist suggested that the parakeet not be dismissed lightly. "Like in politics, the list has sparked a debate over what makes a bird British," writes David Lindo. "Take the parakeet: some see it as a noisy illegal immigrant while others see them as naturalised UK residents."
I have since moved from London to the French and Spanish Basque region. The connections between Basque country and Southern California are too numerous for any to be a surprise — for one thing, when those first Chatsworthians were settling in the San Fernando Valley, some of the valley's most prominent ranching families were French Basque. Many people here have relatives there. This is also the surfing capital of Europe, and more than a few businesses have Malibu or California in their names or marketing materials. What I did not expect was to hear the call of a Mexican band on the beachfront of Biarritz the other night. Turn out it was the opening night of the 23rd annual Festival of Latin American Cinema and Culture. The main exposition hall was filled with vendors selling burritos and empanadas alongside the usual jambon de Bayonne and sangria. There was also a reception and gallery of photographs in homage to Maria Felix, the late Mexican actress. The band started playing after 11:30 p.m. and had people dancing into the morning. We're planning to go back for some mariachi another night.